Illinois high-speed rail project hits a milestone at 111 miles per hour

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A Lincoln Service Amtrak train passes Joliet, Illinois. Photo by Eric Pancer. 

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn joined United States Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood (who’s from Peoria) and Senator Dick Durbin on a special Amtrak train in Joliet on their way to Normal. They met to ride on a rebuilt stretch of track which carried their train at a top speed of 111 miles per hour (MPH).

The high-speed portion is between Dwight and Pontiac, Illinois, according to the LaHood’s blog, Fast Lane. The map below highlights the cities in this article along the route of the Lincoln Service Amtrak route to St. Louis, Missouri. NBC5 reporter Anthony Ponce joined the politicians for the demonstration ride saying the 15 mile high-speed portion lasts less than 5 minutes. “Amtrak says that by 2015, 75% of the route between Chicago and St. Louis will be high speed”.

Governor Quinn, Senator Durbin, and Federal Railroad Administrator Szabo celebrate reaching 111 MPH (visible in the lower-left corner of the TV). Photo by Harvey Tillis

LaHood said on the train, “Four years ago, we were nowhere. Illinois and the country was a wasteland when it comes to high-speed rail”. Grid Chicago readers know that Illinois secured over $2 billion in federal grants through President Obama’s ARRA stimulus program to build new tracks, buy new trains, and study a possible new double-track alignment for the Lincoln Service route. Governor Quinn claimed that 111 MPH is the fastest train speed outside of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in America’s history; however, the Pioneer Zephyr ran from Denver to Chicago and hit a top speed of 112 MPH. The train is on display at the Museum of Science & Industry. The Northeast Corridor is fully electric and has routes that stop at Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C.; Amtrak’s fastest train, the Acela, hits 150 MPH for a short distance.

View this map in a new browser window. Red markers indicate Amtrak stations; larger red markers highlight major stations on the Lincoln Service route from Chicago Union Station to St. Louis, Missouri. Map created using TileMill and freely available GIS shapefiles. 

Amtrak’s state-subsidized routes in Illinois have seen year-over-year ridership increases. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has said he would eliminate federal subsidies to Amtrak. Lincoln Service trains have seen speeds improving since last year when significant lengths of brand-new track was laid. Cutting subsidies would likely slow the ridership increases which are based on Americans’ desire for additional and reliable transportation options; passenger rail provides an alternative to high gas prices.

Representative John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, whose state rejected high-speed rail funding from Washington, supports the profitable Amtrak routes (some in the NEC).

While recognizing the need for a central entity to coordinate routes nationwide, Mr. Mica said the government has no place handling Amtrak’s day-to-day operations. But he acknowledged that some less profitable routes can’t get by without some subsidies.

“I’m for the privatization, and if we can end them, we can,” he said.

The next time Representative Mica goes back to the office, concerned about the profitability of transportation routes, he should check the balance sheets for the nation’s non-tolled highways: 100% of them will be in the red.

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Normal, Illinois, constructed and opened a new intermodal Amtrak station this year (in a multi-use building), along with some streetscape improvements in its downtown. Uptown Station, as it’s known, has Illinois’s second-highest ridership, after Chicago Union Station. Photo by Dan Kuchta. 

Watch the video on NBC5’s website.

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The plan for Union Station

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Accessing Union Station is done by many modes, but each has its own challenges and annoyances. 

Over 50 people attended the 4:30 PM presentation of the Union Station master plan in the Union Gallery on Thursday. The Chicago Department of Transportation is the lead agency on this project even though it may have less at stake in the plan. It’s more likely to lead a fair planning process than if Amtrak, the station’s owner, or Metra, the station’s busiest user, led the master plan. After the presentation, visitors were able to speak directly with staff from the stakeholders and partners (see full list at end).

The plan divides goals and objectives into short, medium, and long term ideas.

Two short term projects are already in the works and each has received funding. They are the “Central Area East-West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project” and “Union Station Transportation Center”, which I’ll also call an intermodal center, as it gets people from buses onto trains and vice versa. The BRT project includes bus priority lanes and intersection priority (buses can go before other traffic) on Canal, Clinton, Madison, and Washington (see embedded map). The BRT application also indicates a Madison Street bike lane will be installed (which already happened) and an eastbound bike lane will be “considered”. The intermodal center will include stair, elevator, and escalator access to an existing underground walkway into Union Station. Continue reading The plan for Union Station

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Union Station master plan public meeting is Thursday

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Photo of Amtrak and Metra trains at Union Station by Eric Pancer. 

Read the event review for this meeting.

Come to the Great Hall at Union Station on Thursday, December 15, 2011, from 4 to 7 PM, for a presentation and open house on the Union Station Master Plan. The Great Hall is in the original Union Station building, at 210 S Canal Street – the meeting will be in the southwest corner. Continue reading Union Station master plan public meeting is Thursday

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Western Illinois Death March

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Roadside Halloween display in Colchester, IL

On Halloween weekend I took a train-bike-train excursion to western Illinois and northeast Missouri and, fittingly, death was a recurring theme on this fun little trip. My childhood pal Greg recently took a gig teaching political science at Western Illinois University in Macomb, IL. Judy, another old friend from the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, moved to Kirksville, MO, last summer to study osteopathic medicine. Since both towns are near Amtrak lines, I decided to link the two visits with a grueling 120-mile day of bicycling. Here’s a map of my bike route.

Friday morning I caught the Carl Sandburg line from Chicago’s Union Station. Like most Amtrak lines that run entirely within Illinois, it allows “roll-on” bicycle service for an additional fee, so I’m able to hoist my unboxed bicycle onboard and simply lean it against the wall of the train car. It’s a relaxing 3.5-hour cruise southwest across the prairie to Macomb, where Greg meets me at the combined train and bus station for this quaint college town of 19,748. In high school we played in a psychedelic rockabilly band called the Glorious Disciples of Freedom, so we greet each other with the band’s secret handshake, grasping each other’s bicep and saying in unison, “Disciples of Freedom.”

Continue reading Western Illinois Death March

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Switching priorities: Giving $27 billion to national transit instead of roads

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A Metra train passes over a congested highway in Chicago. 

Congress is “debating” (it doesn’t always seem like a debate but a shouting match full of poorly chosen words) President Obama’s American Jobs Act right now; the latest news is that the Senate has rewritten the bill to add a new 5% tax on income above $1 million. The bill also includes allocations and competitive grant funding for capital* infrastructure projects, for Amtrak, transit, and road (which would include a tiny bit for bicycle and pedestrian projects) and bridge repair and other types. Read the Act.

Infrastructurist has an idea on how that money could be distributed differently:

Take Obama’s latest proposed jobs bill, which includes $27 billion for immediate spending on highways and bridges, and around $9 billion for rail. Clearly, that’s a huge tilt. What about changing that ratio of fund distribution, on the basis that nearly every large city is currently working to introduce transit? In other words, what if we gave $27 billion to transit, and $9 billion to roads?

It’s already been shown that bike lanes and transit projects provide more jobs for the dollar than road building.

Bicycling infrastructure creates the most jobs for a given level of spending: For each $1 million, the cycling projects in this study create a total of 11.4 jobs within the state where the project is located.

…road-only projects create the least, with a total of 7.8 jobs per $1 million. (Reuters)

We’re for giving transit the funding priority.

*In some cases the bill allows for 10% of the money received to be used for operating expenses. 

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Grid Bits: Tolls rising, BRT on Western, Andersonville needs bike parking

Grid Bits is a new series I’m experimenting with – it comes in the same vein as Grid Shots. While Shots features photos our Flickr group contributors take, Bits is a collection of abstracts on diverse topics around Chicagoland. Each paragraph is a new story.

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Photo of project advertisement in front of the future Oakton Street station.

Continue reading Grid Bits: Tolls rising, BRT on Western, Andersonville needs bike parking

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